According to agooddir, France has been a cultural and military power for centuries and is currently the second most important member of the European Union.
In France, the remains of the oldest human, Cro-Magnon Man, named after the site of its discovery, the Cromagnon Cave in the Dordogne region, have been discovered. The history of France dates back to the settlement by the Celtic Gauls. They penetrated to the west of the Rhineland around 800 BC. In the 5th century, they conquered large European territories and became rivals of Rome, which they failed to defeat in 390 BC.
Rome conquered all of France between 58–50 BC and this state lasted for almost 500 years. When the Roman Empire fell apart, the Christian Frankish kings (the Merovingian dynasty) tried to keep the Roman culture of the Gauls alive. They were followed by the Pippin family. One of them, Charles Martel (c. 688–741), defeated the Muslim Arab conquerors from Spain (the Moors) at Poitiers in 732 and founded the Charlemagne dynasty . His grandson, Charles I the Great (742–814), extended the Frankish rule again to Germany and further to the Scandinavian and Spanish borders, thus creating a Christian kingdom of the whole of Western Europe with the capital in Aix-la-Chapelle (now Aachen in Germany).
Beginning in 987, the Capetian dynasty takes over . At first they are insignificant figures, but their power gradually increases and Philip VI. (1293–1350), the first of the Valois dynasty, already ruled most of present-day France. However, during the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453), large areas came under English rule, while the country was still plagued by high taxes and plague (1347–1351). Charles VII (1403–1461) with the help of Joan of Arc (c. 1412–1431) drove the English out of France and regained his kingdom in 1453.
In the 16th century, France was torn by religious conflicts between Catholics and French Protestants – the Huguenots. The Wars of Religion ended in 1589 when the Protestant Prince Henry of Navarre (1553–1610) converted to the Catholic faith and guaranteed toleration for the Huguenots in order to claim the throne as Henry IV. It also marked the beginning of the Bourbon reign. After his death, however, old contradictions resurfaced. During the reign of Louis XIII. (1601–1643) the pragmatic and tough Cardinal Richelieu (1585–1642) consolidated French power abroad and suppressed all domestic opposition. A series of uprisings known as the Fronde continued under his successor Cardinal Mazarin (1602–1666).
Louis XIV (1638–1715), the “Sun King”, built the most opulent royal court and residence in Europe (Louvre and Versailles) to distract the nobility from politics. The government was even more centralized and the Huguenots further persecuted. Louis XIV conquests expanded France to the north and east, as well as French overseas territories. France colonized parts of North America, India and the Caribbean.
In the 18th century, France lost both Canada and India in costly wars and its financial system was ruined. Under Louis XV. (l710–1774) under the influence of French thinkers, the popularity of the monarchy declined considerably. Under the kind-hearted but incompetent Louis XVI (1754–1793) and the hated Queen Marie Antoinette (1755–1793), the economy was on the brink of collapse. The French Revolution, which broke out in 1789, overthrew the monarchy. When the fanatics Danton (1759–1794) and Robespierre (1758 to 1794) seized power, a period of terror, mass executions and anarchy ensued, during which both Louis XVI and Mane Antoinette were executed. In 1799, an excellent military strategist, the Corsican Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), who proclaimed himself emperor in 1804, seized power. He carried out a number of internal reforms, among them he introduced The Civil Code (Code civil), which still governs French law. However, his main interest was territorial expansion, the attempt to dominate all of Europe, and in this he overestimated himself and his troops. He was defeated militarily in 1813, sent into exile, but returned again in 1815 to suffer his final defeat at Waterloo in Belgium.
The re-established unpopular Bourbon rulers were replaced by an uncertain 2nd Republic, whose president was elected Napoleon’s charismatic nephew Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (1808–1873). In 1852 he organized a coup and declared himself Napoleon III, head of the Second Empire. His reign saw the rise of the Industrial Revolution, which led to non-violent social transformations and unprecedented prosperity accompanied by widespread political and financial corruption.
In 1870, Otto von Bismarck (1815–1896), the unifier of the growing German Empire, drove France into war with Prussia. In it, the army of France collapsed and Napoleon III. was defeated and captured. The newly formed Third Republic sued for peace and the Germans annexed Alsace-Lorraine. The result of the difficult internal political situation was the uprising of the Paris Commune, which, however, was bloodily suppressed (over 20,000 Communards perished in it).
Under the 3rd Republic, France regained internal stability, consolidated its power in Algeria and built more colonies in West Africa and Indochina. World War I, the entire Western Front of which lay in France, brought great loss of life (1.4 million French soldiers) but also ultimately a great strengthening of France’s position in Europe. France regained Alsace-Lorraine and occupied the German Rhineland in 1923–1930.
After the German invasion in 1940, the northern half of France was occupied by German troops, while the south was administered by the collaborationist regime in Víchy, headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain (1856–1951). Strong resistance was represented by the Free France movement, led by General Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970) and supported by Britain, but also by the French communists.
In 1947, the 4th Republic was proclaimed, but it lost public trust during the unfortunate wars in French Indochina (Vietnam) and Algeria.
In 1958, General de Gaulle returned to serve as President of the 5th Republic for 10 years. French prosperity was revived by the newly created European Economic Community (EEC). At the time, de Gaulle was forced to recognize the independence of Algeria and other French colonies, but still continued a hardline nationalist policy rejecting American influence in Europe and repeatedly vetoed Britain’s entry into the EEC. In 1968, the country was shaken by a widespread revolt of Parisian students.
Both of de Gaulle’s followers, Georges Pompidou (1911–1974) and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (b. 1926), devoted themselves primarily to economics, but the development of which was hindered by the oil crises. In 1981, de Gaulle’s old rival, Francois-Maurice Mitterand (born 1916), was elected France’s first socialist president. In 1988, he was re-elected despite the fact that the right gained a majority in the parliament.
Based on the Constitution of the 5th Republic, adopted in 1958, France is a pluralist democracy, headed by a directly elected president for 7 years, who has considerable executive powers. He has the right to convene or dissolve the parliament, to declare a referendum on any issue and other extraordinary measures. The highest legislative body is the Parliament, which consists of the National Assembly and the Senate. The senate, elected according to the regional principle, has 319 members and limited powers.
Decision-making power rests with the 577-member National Assembly, but issues of defense, finance and “national interests” are in the hands of the president. This system, which is a legacy of de Gaulle’s rule and the preceding period of political instability, differs from all the pluralistic democracies of Western Europe. Executive power is vested in the government, headed by the prime minister from the strongest political party.
France is divided into 22 more or less historic regions (regions) and 96 departments and 4 overseas territories. The lowest self-governing authority is the municipal council headed by the mayor, responsible for running municipal facilities such as schools, hospitals and fire departments.